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Martin Aliker Never Wanted the British to Leave Uganda :: Uganda Radionetwork
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Martin Aliker Never Wanted the British to Leave Uganda

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Martin Aliker said there was no need for Independence and then, politics was seen very much as a second-class profession.
18 Apr 2024 17:52
Dr Martin Jerome Okec 1925-2024. He said at the beginning even now politics is a means of a livelihood.
  Dr. Martin Aliker, an acclaimed Ugandan diplomat, businessman and one of the first dental surgeons died on Monday at the age of 95. He will be buried on Sunday 21st April at his ancestral home in Aworanga in Gulu district.  

As different people within Uganda and across the world pay tribute to veteran politician, it has emerged that Aliker, who was one of the few Ugandans with university degrees at the time of Independence in 1962, did not want the British to leave Uganda.   

In 2018, Dr. Aliker published a book his memoirs titled “The Bell Is Ringing: Martin Aliker’s Story” in which he documented his life’s story from his village in Aworanga, Gulu until he scaled the heights in education and into politics and diplomacy. It tells his story right from his childhood in Acholi, where he was born on 21st October 1928, through independence, the Obote times, the 1970s under Amin, other regimes, and under Yoweri  Museveni where he served as a minister.   

Earlier, in May 2013, Dr. Martin Aliker fielded an interview with Prof. Sue Onslow, from the Institute Of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London. Prof. Onslow, a leading oral history practitioner, asked several questions about post-independence Uganda and Aliker’s contribution to it. URN has extracted some of the excerpts from the interview in which Aliker seems to suggest there was no need for Independence at the time the British left Uganda.           

Here below is part of the interview.   Prof. Onslow: “So, how politically active were you at this particular point in the mid-to late-1960s?  

Dr. Aliker: Well… [Laughter] I was never really involved in politics. I have to make a confession. I was one of those people who did not see the need for independence in Uganda because life was very comfortable under the British. We didn’t really see what more we wanted. We had everything: there was never any segregation in Uganda, the salary scales were the same, the facilities were all available. So, the agitation for independence was only amongst a few people. At that time, we talked about how those who were failures in life were the ones who went into politics. [Laughter]  

Prof. Onslow seemed surprised by  Dr. Aliker’s confession and thoughts about independence. Dr. Martin Aliker then went on to say “Well, I can tell you the names of the people who went into politics. Milton Obote: Obote did not get a degree. He had no degree, but he left Makerere because they were not offering law. He wanted to study law and there was no law faculty, so he left. He left of his own accord. So, he didn’t have a degree. I can go through the names: George Magezi, Cuthbert Obwangor, Matthias Ngobi, Gaspari Oda, Alex Latim – all these fellows had no degree. There wasn’t, I don’t think, in the first government…Oh yes, in the first cabinet, there were four people with degrees. There was William Kalema, Grace Ibingira, Joe Zake, and Dr Emmanuel Lumu. Those are the ones I can think of who had degrees.   To some of the Ugandans, most of the leaders that Dr. Aliker had mentioned had formed part of the body politic of the country Uganda. They had been part of the Legislative Council - LEGICO, served in the first cabinet and were part of the Parliament, and lived through the 1966 crisis in Buganda, until 1971 when Dr. Apolo Milton Obote was toppled by Idi Amin.  

Prof. Onslow: “What you’re suggesting to me here, then, is that politics was seen very much as a second-class profession?  

Dr. Aliker: “Very much so. Definitely, it was for those who were failures in life: people who had no definite careers or good prospects for the future,” Dr Aliker answered.  

Prof Onslow: So, rather than it being intellectual leadership at independence and the energy and dynamism of first-class political minds, you’re suggesting in Uganda that this was not the case?  

Dr. Aliker: At the beginning, it was not; even up to now it is not. Today, it is a means of a livelihood.  

Prof Onslow: Ah, so, they seek to resolve ‘the problems of the bus queue’ through political office?  

Dr. Aliker: No, they seek to become members of parliament so they can get paid. 

Prof Onslow:  That’s what I mean: that, if you have problems in the bus queue, you become an official or member of parliament, so you can automatically jump ahead and get a Mercedes-Benz! 

Dr. Aliker:  That’s right. Yes, this is how we view them.  

Prof Onslow:  So, in the 1960s, there was a remarkable disconnect between the intellectual elite, such as yourself – the professional elite – and the political elite, which was not engaged with grassroots activism?

Dr. Aliker: There was no connection at all. I don’t remember anybody, say, from Makerere University joining politics.  

Prof Onslow: That is an extraordinary debasement of your country’s intellectual capability and the resource pool in politics.   Dr. Aliker: No…We did not view politicians very positively.    

Prof Onslow: As you said on Monday, there was remarkable disdain for the idea of the country being ruled by commoners and people of ‘common intellect’. 

Dr. Aliker: Well, for the landed gentry – especially in Buganda – and the so-called ‘Whose son are you?’ These are people who had property, people who had money, people who had status, and they could not see themselves being ruled by the sons of ‘Who is he?’ – commoners, so to speak. In Buganda, the problem persists to this day. They say that…The Baganda still expect a special position for themselves, which means a special position for the elite in Buganda, not for every Muganda. And, when they talk about what Buganda wants in the special status, they are really talking about going back to the time when the Kabaka was the absolute ruler and he dished out jobs as he saw fit. Well, that’s not going to happen anymore.  

Prof Onslow: No, that system of patronage is not. So, by the latter part of the 1960s, had you become more politically active if you were criticising these second-class politicians? 

Dr. Aliker: Well…I didn’t, because I got more involved in business. So, that even put me further away from politics, and one of the reasons Amin took over government was that we never expected it to happen. We just could not see a coup in Uganda. A coup for what? Everybody was content. And Amin took over the government and we were all so helpless. We were not prepared for it. We couldn’t counter Amin in any way. Today it would be different: I don’t think Amin would have survived as long as he did – 8 years – in today’s Uganda.   Other excerpts of the interviews will be published in subsequent stories.    

Biography: 

Aliker, Dr Martin Jerome Okec. 1925-. Born in Gulu District, Uganda. Alumnus of Kings College Budo and Makerere University. Qualified as Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) from Northwestern University, Chicago, 1959. Influential Ugandan Business Leader and Investor, holding Directorships with a variety of companies including Uganda Breweries Limited (1961-2001); Cooper Motor Corporation (1962-72, 2000-06); Longman Publishing, Uganda (1965-87); Phoenix Assurance Company of East Africa (1969-93); Coca-Cola Africa Region (1991-2004); Nation Media Group, 2001-11; Heritage Oil, Uganda (2003-10); and many others. Left Uganda in exile for Nairobi, Kenya, in 1972; returned to Uganda permanently in 1996. Advisor to Presidents Yusuf Lule and Godfrey Binaisa, 1979-80. Senior Adviser, Special Duties, to the President of Uganda Yoweri Museveni, 1986- . Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, 1996-99. Chairperson, Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust Fund, Uganda Chapter, 2012-13. Chancellor, Gulu University, 2002-2014.

  Other excerpts of the interviews will be published in subsequent stories.